“Al Buraik is a lion and al Saffar turned into a sheep,” “our sheikh beat their sheikh,” “our sheikh knocked out their sheikh.” These are examples of the comments made by fans of both Sheikh Saad al Buraik and Sheikh Hassan al Saffar after their appearance together on Al Bayan al Tali talk show presented by Dr. Abdulaziz Qassim on the Al Daleel television channel.
I commented on this discussion in my article last week however the subsequent reactions, especially among intellectual elites, are no less important than the dialogue itself. The reaction of the audience alone – whether it is satisfied or disgusted by the outcome of the dialogue – is an indicator that we are yet to reach the minimum level required to deal successfully with diversity, a concept that God made unavoidable. The dialogue was confined to the concepts of a “homeland for all” and the rights and duties of citizens regarding doctrinal diversity rather than being a debate between two ideologies and doctrines. It was a dialogue for mutual understanding in order to define common ground rather than a boxing match during which the fans ardently wait for the knockout moment or for one of the boxers to win based on points.
In this regard, I recalled the debates between Sheikh Ahmed Deedat, may God rest his soul, and members of the Christian church such as Jimmy Swaggart, with whom Deedat had a famous debate. Despite my deep respect for Sheikh Ahmed Deedat and his skill at understanding the Christian heritage and at professionally seeking out Biblical contradictions, using the mechanism of scoring points in front of the audience, just like in boxing, unfortunately, caused the debate to lose its real significance i.e. to convey the truth to others by means of wisdom, fair preaching and polite dispute. Others will not be pleased with the truth if they received it by being refuted, humiliated and entrapped by the speaker.
Watching the Deedat-Swaggart debates was exactly like watching a boxing match. Each spectator waits for the moment the representative of his religion knocks out his rival even if by means of mockery and sarcasm. This is what happened when Swaggart noticed that Deedat was carrying several copies of the Bible. Swaggart looked at Deedat in disdain and said, “The way you’re carrying all those copies of the Bible reminds me of the Quranic verse: ‘The likeness of those who were charged with the [obligations of] Torah, then they did not observe it, is as the likeness of the ass bearing books, evil is the likeness of the people who reject the communications of Allah; and Allah does not guide the unjust people’” The audience burst into laughter and applauded but Deedat was no easy target, as he responded with just as much sarcasm.
Is this the ideal way to debate and refute claims? Isn’t the impact of this method quite negative? I do not know anyone who practically or realistically monitored the impact of “point scoring” during debates and the extent to which it actually affects people’s beliefs. There is no doubt that people naturally adhere to their religion, their doctrinal affiliation, and their symbols, and it is not easy to influence them by directly challenging them, as this may push followers to uphold their religion, doctrine and symbols even more.
The possibility of peaceful coexistence in the real Islamic vision, which was applied by Muslims from the dawn of Islam until recently, does not look into the details of other doctrines regardless of how different they might seem from the Islamic concept. Islam coexisted side-by-side with Christianity, Judaism, pagan religions, Zoroastrianism, Confucianism and others, so how can other doctrines be restricted under the Islamic umbrella? We often praise Islamic moments of glory and the spirit of justice and beneficence when dealing with people of other religions and ideologies, but when it comes to real action we turn into something else altogether.